Brautigan > The Abortion

This node of the American Dust website provides comprehensive information about Richard Brautigan's novel The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. Published in 1971, this was Brautigan's fourth published novel. Publication and background information is provided, along with reviews, many with full text. Use the menu tabs below to learn more.

          

Background

First published in 1971, The Abortion was Brautigan's fourth published novel, and the first with a subtitle: "An Historical Romance 1966."

Timeline

In November 1965, Brautigan began collecting ideas for what he hoped would be a new novel with a working title of The American Experience by Richard Brautigan. The opening chapter began, "The American experience is an operation illegal in this country: abortion. This is our story. There are thousands like us in America [. . .] in every state, in every city."

In March 1966, Brautigan began developing the story idea in earnest. He decided to call the heroine Vida Kramer, perhaps a painful nod to the small town of Vida, Oregon, along the McKenzie River where Linda Webster had, years earlier, spurned his declaration of love. The library for unpublished manuscripts was based on Brautigan's experience with the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library (see below). The librarian, the narrator of Brautigan's novel, shared details with Brautigan himself: same age, description, history, etc. The imaginary character Vida was based on Janice Meissner, Brautigan's real-life girlfriend. The trip to Mexico was based on Brautigan's research.

Research Trip to Mexico

On 26 March 1966, Brautigan took a one-day research trip to Tijuana, Mexico, a city known then for offering several clinics where one could undergo procedures for terminating unwanted pregnancies. He flew aboard Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) flight 840 from San Francisco to San Diego, California. It was his first airplane flight, and Brautigan made many observations of the experience in his notebook, most found their way into the novel.

In San Diego, Brautigan boarded a Greyhound bus—one left every fifteen minutes—bound for Tijuana. Again, Brautigan made many notes: Tijuana's welcoming arch, the government tourist building, the crowded streets, the Woolworth's department store. He did not, however, visit an abortion clinic. Brautigan's notes during the bus ride and visit in Tijuana refer to "Vida" as if she were traveling with him.

Brautigan returned to San Francisco on PSA flight 631 that evening. He transcribed his notes into twenty-one typewritten pages. Nearly all the details he observed and noted he included in his evolving novel.

From October 1967-April 1968, Robert Park Mills, Brautigan's literary agent at the time, tried to sell The Abortion to a New York publisher. The manuscript was rejected by Harcourt, Brace and World, Simon and Schuster, Viking, Putnam, Harper and Row, Random House, Morrow, Dial, Doubleday, Macmillian, Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. Mills and Brautigan exchanged a number of letters throughout this process. After more than a year Doubleday and Company expressed interest to publish Trout Fishing in America and one other novel, possibly The Abortion. The deal never materialized, however.

Plot

The plot of The Abortion follows the narrator, a young man, the librarian, who works and lives in the library, a Brautigan world of lonely pleasure, where he meets a woman. After impregnating the woman, the narrator supports her abortion. In the process he learns how to reenter human society.

Background for the Library

The setting for The Abortion is the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library, established in 1898 as the sixth San Franciso Public Library branch. It opened at its site in Brautigan's novel, 3150 Sacramento Street, in 1921.

Designed by G. Albert Landsburgh, the architect of the Mission, Chinatown and Sunset branches, as well as the Golden Gate and Warfield theatres, the Italian-Renaissance building was built with $83,228.00 in Carnegie funds. John McLaren, the builder of Golden Gate Park, designed the original landscaping for Presidio Branch's picturesque site.

As Brautigan describes the library, "The library is old in the San Francisco post-earthquake yellow-brick style and is located at 3150 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, California 94115" (The Abortion 22).

"This library rests upon a sloping lot that runs all the way through the block down from Clay to Sacramento Street. We use just a small portion of the lot and the rest of it is overgrown with tall grass and bushes and flowers and wine bottles and lovers' trysts" (33).

"There are some old cement stairs that pour through green and busy establishments down from the Clay Street side and there are ancient electric lamps, Friends of Thomas Edison, mounted on tall metal asparagus stalks" (33-34).

"They are on what was once the second landing of the stairs" (34).

"The back of the library lies almost disappearing in green at the bottom of the stairs" (34).

"There are high arched windows here in the library above the bookshelves and there are two green trees towering into the windows and they spread their branches like paste against the glass" (35).

"I love those trees" (35).

Background for the Abortion

Two writers connect Brautigan with an abortion. Michael McClure, in his essay, "Ninety-one Things about Richard Brautigan" notes Brautigan "apparently had an abortion with some woman" (Lighting the Corners, p. 46)

Karen Finley, in her essay titled "An Affair to Remember," part of the book Drinking With Bukowski: Recollections of the Poet Laureate of Skid Row (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000), recounts an argument with poet Charles Bukowski over an abortion she had with Brautigan. Finley's essay starts by noting her argument with Bukowski and then provides more details about her relationship with Brautigan.

"You went to Mexico when you got pregnant with Richard," he [Bukowski] said hissing.

"Yes, and that was when abortion was illegal! You can't let him go can you? Besides, he's dead! He's dead! I was only a kid." (111)

I met Richard Brautigan at Enrico's cafe on Broadway and Kearny down the street from City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 1971. It was 1:30 AM and I had just ended my shift as a cocktail waitress at the infamous strip club The Condor. Enrico the owner of the bistro wanted me for I was underage and looked it. He promised to set me up in my own apartment. He never had me but would rub my knee while I ate my club sandwich and drank my hot cocoa. He would always give the taxi driver ten dollars to take me home.

Enrico introduced me to Richard Brautigan in mid-January and it surprised Enrico when I told the table that I had written a term paper on him the year before as a sophomore in high school. That is when Enrico stopped wanting me, for the turn on was that I knew nothing and now that I revealed myself I would have to pay for my own damn sandwich. I knew Brautigan's poetry by heart and when I spoke Richard became enamored. Richard was drunk, despondent, and disillusioned but I was a devoted fan.

So that is how I met Richard Brautigan. I later met Kathey Acker as my teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute, who introduced me to Gregory Corso, who introduced me to Bukowski at Brautigan's funeral.

The Brautigan issue with Bukowski was that I became pregnant with Richard and had an emotionally, highly charged, dramatic illegal abortion in Mexico. A conflict and an intimacy that Charles grew envious and jealous of as his feelings for me deepened. The fact that I actually read Brautigan and never read Bukowski made matters worse. So now you know. I had an affair with Bukowski and never read any of his goddamn books (112).

Whether McClure's reference speaks to Finley's alleged abortion with Brautigan, or whether it is a reference to a second alleged abortion, is uncertain. Finley's reference to an abortion with Brautigan seems unlikely. First, Finley claims she met Brautigan in mid-January 1971, and therefore the abortion she alleges sharing with Brautigan would have been after this date. Of note: Finley, born in 1956, would have been 15 when she met Brautigan. Finally, Brautigan wrote The Abortion in the mid-1960s, well before Finley claims to have first met him. For these reasons it seems unlikely that an alleged abortion shared with Finley could have had a direct influence on the writing of the novel.

Brautigan's notebooks record his trip to Tijuana, Mexico, where he collected notes that were used in the writing of this novel. But, despite these notes, and the references noted above, no evidence has been found that Brautigan actually participated in an abortion with anyone.

Dedication

Frank [Curtin]:
come on in —
    read novel —
    it's on table
    in front room.
I'll be back
    in about
    two hours.
              Richard

After moving into his apartment at 2546 Geary Boulevard, summer 1966, Brautigan asked his neighbor, Lois Weber, wife of photographer Erik Weber to leave a note for Frank Curtin who planned to visit the apartment and read the manuscript of Brautigan's new novel. She pinned a note to Brautigan's front door. When he returned to his apartment, Brautigan found the note still pinned to the front door. He removed it, and typed it verbatim into his manuscript as the dedication, another example of his use of found art in his writing. Brautigan later used the dedication page from the manuscript as a thank you note to Lois Weber.

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